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Archive for the ‘small groups’ Category

I wrote a blog post over at Thrive.  Here’s an excerpt.

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At Thrive, we encourage what we call, “open hand leadership”.  It is the idea that we are stewards of what God has given us, but at any moment we may be called to surrender a part or a whole of what has been given.  In many ways this has been liberating.  There is something infinitely more rewarding that comes from nurturing and stewarding something as opposed to trying to control it.  But recently I had an experience that reminded me that this practice must continually be revisited.

A couple of weeks ago, my tribe went on our Q7 retreat.  The week leading up to the retreat we participated in an exercise designed to speak wholeness into our lives.  It was simply spending 30 minutes listening to how Jesus saw me. And during this exercise I asked him what I was being called to do.  With my eyes closed, the only image I was given was of my hands.  That’s it.  Nothing more.

Read more here.

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One of the significant moments in my life was realizing that my Tribe was looking out for me. And if I allowed them they could be a vast source of growth in my life.

Historically one of the significant selling points of small groups is fellowship.  Come hang out and meet other people like you.  I get this.  I’ve lived this.  It’s actually really interesting to navigate the waters of new friendship, share a meal and perhaps a story.  Fellowship is sitting with those who are like me in some way and sharing life to a certain extent.

But what also seems to arise in any small group is the wall of the “real”.  I’m a broken human being learning to follow Jesus.  And if the intent of the group is simply fellowship, and even a simple Bible study, I’m likely not going to get to the reality that I’m broken.  In fact I am likely to hide my brokenness from those around me.  Fellowship then becomes a dance around my brokenness and stuff, me hoping they won’t notice when I slip up.  And in return, I won’t call out their brokenness too.  We’ll learn the right answers that allows everyone to nod their head in agreement.  But we’ll all subtly yet even unconsciously agree not to address significant issues in our life.

If this sounds familiar, this was most of my life in small groups.  And there is a true desire for friendship in these groups.  I still to this day have a significant amount of good friends who have come from groups like these, people I can call and say hi.

But what I never knew was the radical brilliance of what Jesus created when he said, “Come Follow Me.”  This single statement changed my life.  It was a three word calling into my heart to go beyond the simple fellowship of small groups and into what it means to engage God’s mission of restoration.  The call to follow meant to take up the practice of love, to deal with my broken heart, my wounds and my fears.  And to do that I needed a tribe, a group deeply committed to restoration.  I needed my people.

And when I did I realized what some call communitas, a group living in the liminal space of restoration, deeply committed to something together, something good, something whole.  And at the center of that mission was our hearts.  There’s a tremendous power that comes from a group willing to step into the chaos and eventually past it.  What once held us back became a chapter in our story of overcoming.  Instead of looking at each other as the problem, we could begin to see our brokenness as the problem.  As it was the tribe’s responsibility to hold and help restore each others dignity.

To follow meant going beyond the right answer and into the real answer so we could then live the right answer.  It meant taking little step towards the cross, to discover what the other side of death looked like.  It meant discovering not just the life and death of Jesus, but the resurrection part.  It was a strange but deeply rewarding process.

And at one point I remember looking around at my brother’s, my tribe, and realizing that they loved me.  They were the face of God for me.  They were reflecting Jesus back to me.  And it was good.

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Sometimes we have to leave to know its okay to come back.

Recently I was in conversation with a really great friend struggling to make sense of God, the journey, following Jesus, Scripture, and community. And contrary to public opinion he chose to break from community.  And my first thought was that this was a bad idea.

As people designed in the image of God I believe that we are created for community.  God’s very first distinction of himself, Elohim, is a plural distinction.  It’s God in community.  But anyone who has lived longer than six seconds knows that community is not easy.  In fact, it can often be really hard.  Community has often been a place where we can’t hear our own thoughts because everyone else is thinking for us.

Face it.  Everyone has an opinion.  And people like to share their opinions.  For a thousand different reasons you can all guess.

But as I sat with my friend and wrestled through his decision, something began to reveal itself to me.  To get to true community, a true interdependence, which is a healthy reliance on community, we often FIRST have to break from dependence.  We have to break free from all the chatter, noise, and crippling reliance of those who try to rescue, fix, or control us.  We need to find that space where we can take a stand for our own hearts and place it firmly into the hands of the Father who can restore it.  To find our courage begins with God’s validation, not the world’s.

And as I sat thinking about my friend, I began to think, “What if he needed to leave to find his independence from everything that was crippling him and holding him back…so he can find interdependence in community.  What if breaking free from community was actually a good thing?”

It seems counterintuitive doesn’t it.  But healthy community doesn’t come from control.  It doesn’t happen when we show up and someone gives us permission to do certain things, believe a certain way, or even tells us how to think.  It happens when those around us encourage us on to discover what God originally intended.  It happens when there is love and each party is given the opportunity to think, to feel and to be who God created him/her to be.

So here’s to all those who are willing to leave so that they can discover true interdependence.

Listening: Facedown by Mat Redman

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One of the most dangerous things you can do as a Christian is to think really small and pour your love into twelve people. And the cool thing is that it doesn’t even require a license.

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Jason Clark has graciously allowed me to post on his site.  The title is called, A Space Where Love Resides.  It’s about how we can easily hide in church.  Here’s an excerpt.

For several weeks I would enter the parking lot, walk from my car to the sanctuary, sit at my seat, stay for the message and then leave. The only times I was engaged during those weeks were when I was handed a bulletin and when the church invited us to say hello to those around me. In both cases I didn’t say anything more than, “hello”. And I realized over time that I could hide if I wanted to.

And as I think about this little experiment, I realized that church can often be a place to hide if we want to. The structure of church allows us to show up and punch our tickets, yet never really engage any real relationship. And to be fair, my experiment was essentially before the church began to embrace the “small group”. Most of Ralph Neighbour’s work had yet to be embraced on a larger basis. Most of the structures the church supported all happened at the church building. I’m not knocking this, just stating what was at the time.

Read more here.

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I was thinking about the path I’ve taken towards following Jesus. And over this path I can not deny the impact theology has had on my journey. And much of my learning falls into only a couple of categories: history, philosophy, and ethics. History is essentially my study of what happened, or the story. Philosophy is the development of coherent thought and judgment. In other words, I have a reasoned approach to my faith. Ethics then becomes the framework for the practice of what I believed in. You may have other words in their place.

When all is said and done, I realized that over the course of my journey, at least for the first twenty-five years, I was not really told to practice love. Most of my education has been in the previous three. And I realized this morning that much of my development was not a theology that leads to love. Much of it was information on a chalk board. It was who could be the smartest or knew the right answer. It was information to digest and argue and debate, but rarely to practice in context.

But to a great extent much of this foundation was meant to invite me into the practice of love. Most of the law could be summed up to love God and love others. In fact Jesus even said,

Mark 12:29-31 – 29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

And it seems rather strange to me that God breaks it down to such a simple mandate. But what radically changed my journey was the practice of love. Was I really going to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and love? Was I going to really love the person next to me when I didn’t feel like it? Was I going to forgive when it didn’t feel good?

Once I began to practice love, I began to realize how ridiculously hard it is. It revealed my brokenness in ways that were entirely uncomfortable. It exposed me in ways that revealed how much I needed love in the first place. When I was talking about love, it was always referencing what I was supposed to do and that was easy. It was removed from context and experience. But when I practiced love, I couldn’t deny my own failure at it.

And this is why I believe that central to missional discipleship, to the journey of restoration, is the practice of love. And when we do this in communitas, which is an authentic community in mission, we discover a place to deal with the pretensions and harsh reality of how disconnected we are from God. In community we can begin to see the possibility of restoration and hope because we can see our Father’s reflection in the love of those around us. And once I allowed myself to be loved, my heart began to change. It began to emanate love in ways that I had not previously known. I was loved so I could now love.

My concern is that most of our structures in the church do not really create a content for effectively engaging love. They are more likely about the developing a correct theology. My hope is that as we move forward in the emerging church we begin to develop a theology that leads to the practice of love, not just the dialog about it.

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I’m reading Tom Sine’s book, The New Conspirators, by IVP. The cover you see is the UK version. Tom and his wife Christine run Mustard Seed Associates in Seattle, WA. Tom is an excellent story teller, weaving idea with experience. It provides a nice blend that is engaging in many ways.

Tom provides his vision for the book on the second page,

“…we see the Spirit of God working largely through the vision, creativity and initiative of a new generation—through emerging, missional, multicultural and monastic streams—as well as in traditional churches that are hungry for a more authentic, vital, mission-centered faith. This book is written to invite you, not only to support what God is doing through these renewing streams, but also to join this conspiracy of compassion”

He invites readers to consider four new streams (emerging, missional, mosaic, and monastic) that are popping up all over the world. These expression provide the framework for five conversations in the book.

  1. Conversation I: Taking the new conspirators seriously.
  2. Conversation II: Taking the culture seriously.
  3. Conversation III: Taking the future of God seriously.
  4. Conversation IV: Taking the turbulent times seriously.
  5. Conversation V: Taking our imagination seriously.

Over the next month, I’ll be looking at these five conversations in further detail.

One of the things I immediately like and appreciated is Tom’s engaging style. He is humble in his presentation and is constantly inviting his readers into the conversation without being overbearing. His idea is to explore the content with you. Each chapter does come with a study guide for further exploration in small groups as well.

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